[Slave reparations hearing at Chicago City Council – Justice for Janitors SEIU local #1 strike rally]

Footage shot by Bill Stamets for the City 2000 project that aimed to document the City of Chicago in the year 2000. The first section tapes place at a reparations hearing at the Chicago City Council, and the second half documents a Justice for Janitors SEIU local #1 strike rally.

00:00Copy video clip URL Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, 14th Ward, is confronted by members of the press before a hearing centering on a resolution before the Chicago City Council to urge the Illinois legislature and United States Congress to study the issue of reparations for the descendants of slaves. Burke defers opinion and suggests it will be Congress’ role to study the prospect of reparations.

00:25Copy video clip URL A witness talks about the legacy of slavery in the United States and its impact on the descendants of African-Americans. Pictures depicting slave sale advertisements, notices of Ku Klux Klan meetings, and Jim Crow-era policies such as segregated water fountains are placed on easels behind the witness against the chamber’s walls. The witness puts forward arguments in favor of establishing reparations for descendants of slavery, regarding the criminality of slavery’s intent and its continued impact of racial disenfranchisement and economic dispossession. Reference to payments made to survivors of the Holocaust and land rights settlements to indigenous peoples are made by the witness as recognition of the moral imperative of reparations.

04:04Copy video clip URL The witness outlines the need and intended goal of the proposed resolution. Alderman Dorothy Tillman, 3rd Ward, is thanked as a main proponent of the resolution.

05:18Copy video clip URL Another witness concludes testimony. Attention is drawn to a similar bill drafted by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, which has been introduced each year since 1987 and has called for studying slavery reparations. Ald. Dorothy Tillman is shown at work.

05:55Copy video clip URL U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-ILL.) gives testimony. Ald. Ed Burke is shown seated next to the congressman. Rush says that he is a co-sponsor of Conyers’s bill titled “The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.” He then outlines the aims of the proposed bill and concludes by making an argument in favor of the need of reparations.

10:10Copy video clip URL Historian and Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett Jr. testifies in favor of the resolution. Bennett recounts an overview of the history of slavery, acknowledges that no remuneration is sufficient to cover the harm caused by slavery, and makes the case that reparations can at least help make amends. Bennett gives a thorough account of the economic and social advantages gained by those in American history who exploited the slave trade and built their fortunes from slave labor.

18:49Copy video clip URL Footage cuts and jumps to moments later in Bennett’s speech. Bennett relates the history of slavery in Illinois and the forced labor system of the early 20th century.

23:40Copy video clip URL Bennett receives a standing ovation from the crowd.

24:05Copy video clip URL Ald. Tillman attempts to open the floor to questions for the speakers.

24:36Copy video clip URL Footage jumps. The floor has opened to questions and comments for Lerone Bennett.

25:45Copy video clip URL Footage cuts to Ald. Tillman asking for greater cooperation from those seated in the crowd.

26:20Copy video clip URL Footage cuts to another Alderman who asks a question of Bennett.

29:24Copy video clip URL Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward, gives testimony to her upbringing from parents who were sharecroppers in Arkansas.

32:00Copy video clip URL Another witness recounts the historical contributions of Egyptian culture and black Africans to classical thought and the founding of cultural touchstones like writing, symbols of justice, truth, and reciprocity, and stories of creation and early humanity that influenced

33:53Copy video clip URL Another witness makes introductory remarks.

34:26Copy video clip URL Wade Nobles, a psychologist from San Francisco State University, states the case for the untold physical and psychological damages incurred by slavery that are still in need of restoration. Nobles also claims that slavery has damaged the white American psyche, a demonstrable pathology to an unresolved fear of blackness and the need to control or eliminate peoples of African descent. The figure of Thomas Jefferson is used to illustrate the “abiding American psychic conflict,” and Nobles recites a number of reflections by Jefferson that consider the conflicting and deleterious psychological impact of slavery on society and generations to come.

39:53Copy video clip URL Video jumps and resumes moments later in Nobles’s speech. He makes concluding remarks connecting the issue of reparations as an initial step toward mental and social restoration for the descendants of African slaves.

43:25Copy video clip URL Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward, responds to Nobles. Austin relates a lesson from her father about the time she first saw a scar on his back. Inquiring about the scar, Austin’s father responded, “It was a bullet because I wouldn’t behave,” and that he had kept the bullet in his back as a reminder “not to behave.” Later in her father’s life, Austin tells that in order to get social security benefits, they had to obtain records of her father’s ownership by a plantation slave owner because he had never been given a birth certificate. According to Austin, her father’s name was listed in the same category as the plantation livestock, and is the first recorded documentation of his name and existence.

47:30Copy video clip URL Ald. Tillman begins narrating stories behind the photographs positioned on the back chamber walls. The pictures depict various brutal murders of black people, gruesome Ku Klux Klan actions, Jim Crow segregation, and advertisements for slave auctions. Tillman questions Nobles further about the psychological ramifications of such brutalities on the descendants of former slaves and black Americans.

50:57Copy video clip URL Another witness gives testimony, discussing the racial divide and economic asymmetry of wealth distribution based upon systemic factors of racism and slavery. He stresses the fundamental economic basis for the justification and  proliferation of slavery conjoined with racism. Supporting his argument is an extended historical consideration of the rise of racism and slavery.

1:02:32Copy video clip URL Footage cuts to black.

1:02:44Copy video clip URL Footage resumes. Camera pans the display of photographs on the chamber back wall. One board depicts the story of the murder of Will James.

1:03:39Copy video clip URL Camera gives a wide shot of the city council chamber from different perspectives. Hearing is called to order and a new witness is called to the stand. She then gives a slide show presentation about the depiction of blackness and stereotyping in popular American media and advertising.

1:07:59Copy video clip URL Video resumes outside of the James R. Thompson Center to cover footage of striking custodial workers.

 

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